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  • Sarah Waara

A life-saving mammogram


Mary O'Connor showing strength as she navigates cancer survivorship

Mary O’Connor doesn’t want to be known as a cancer survivor. Instead, she wants to be recognized as a prime example for early detection and a passionate advocate for routine mammograms and wellness exams.


Just last year, Mary was on her way to volunteer at the Ascension SE Wisconsin Hospital - St. Joseph Campus NICU when she got a call that no one wants to hear — she had cancer.


The call came in October 2022 after a routine mammogram led to finding dense tissue and numerous lumps, something that wasn’t unusual for Mary. Following that, she had a biopsy and MRI to confirm the diagnosis. Just a couple weeks later, she got the official diagnosis of stage 1 breast cancer — her tumor was the size of a pencil eraser.


“When I was on my way to the NICU to hold babies, my phone rang and I saw the call was from my doctor,” Mary said. “They told me that the lump was cancerous and all I thought was ok…what’s the next step? I knew I couldn’t change it and I get a mammogram every year so I knew it couldn’t be that big yet.”


After talking through her options with her oncologist, it was decided that the best choice would be to undergo a lumpectomy at Ascension SE Wisconsin Hospital - Franklin Campus. Following a successful surgery and follow-up appointment, Mary learned that she would not need chemotherapy and would instead receive 15 treatments of radiation at the Reiman Cancer Center.

Mary, center, pictured with Ascension Wisconsin associates

This October marks nearly five months of being cancer free. Today, Mary is healthy and takes three supplements — calcium, vitamin D and an estrogen blocker — to help prevent the cancer from returning.


“I don’t look at myself as a cancer survivor, I look at myself like I’m the poster child for early detection and that you need to get your yearly mammograms,” Mary said. “There’s always a way to get it done, even if you don’t have insurance. If someone tells me they’re scared, I’ll go with them. If someone can’t drive, I’ll take them. It’s such an important piece in our health and I will always advocate for preventive care.”


Donor generosity to Ascension Wisconsin Foundation makes preventive cancer care possible. Mary is just one of many patients that receives routine care, such as a yearly mammogram, to stay ahead of her health. In this case, it saved her life. Thank you for making this care possible.


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